Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
THE officer-in-charge of CID Gweru, Detective Inspector Leonard Gwandu has been sentenced to three years in prison for criminal abuse of office.
Gwandu will, however serve an effective two years in jail after one year was suspended on condition of good behaviour.
The State managed to prove that he released a vehicle stolen from South Africa that was being held by the police as an exhibit.
The court heard how Gwandu took advantage of the absence of his boss, Chief Superintendent Wellington Ngena and Superintendent Magdalene Chakanyuka, who keeps exhibits, who were both on leave and released the vehicle, a Toyota Hilux double cab valued at US$27 000 to Kwekwe businessman Mr Shepherd Tundiya.
The State proved that it had been communicated to Gwandu that there were 10 such stolen South African registered vehicles in the country and Toyota South Africa and its clients were making follow-ups.
Of the 10 vehicles, two were in Gweru including the one which was released to Mr Tundiya by Gwandu.
Gwandu who pleaded not guilty, was however convicted due to overwhelming evidence by Gweru regional magistrate Mrs Phathekile Msipa.
In an hour-long judgement, Mrs Msipa said it was common- cause that Gwandu released the vehicle when it was the duty of the court to make such an order thereby showing favour to Mr Tundiya.
She said only the court can make an order to release ‘a cat’ held as an exhibit after commencement of criminal proceedings.
Mrs Msipa said only a judge or magistrate handling the case had such powers.
“The State noted that the vehicle was subject to investigations from Toyota South Africa and Gwandu had such a database of vehicles under investigation in his office,” said Mrs Msipa.
She said for reasons best known to Gwandu, he released the vehicle taking advantage of the fact that his superiors had gone on leave.
“How does the accused release the vehicle back to a man knowing that it was suspected to be stolen? It baffles one’s mind that this was committed by a senior police officer and it amounted to criminal abuse of duty. The accused knew that it was unlawful for him to give Mr Tundiya the vehicle even after his acquittal. By his actions, he showed favour to Mr Tundiya by releasing the vehicle to him. There is a thin line between incompetence and corruption and he is found guilty as charged,” she said.
Mrs Msipa said Gwandu deserved a prison term as opposed to paying a fine or doing community service saying community service would trivialise the offence.
“A fine is not suitable under the circumstances and so is community service because society will frown at this sentence and doubt our justice system. We need to protect persons and their property. You took advantage of the fact that your officer in charge and the officer in charge of exhibits were on leave. This was a well-planned act and there is a need for the court to pass a deterrent sentence so that society has confidence in our courts. You are sentenced to three years of which one is suspended on condition of good behaviour,” she said.
Gwandu who has been a police officer for 24 years, denied showing any favours to Mr Tundiya saying according to his assessment, he was the true owner of the vehicle.
He argued that after the acquittal of Mr Tundiya, he saw no reason to keep the vehicle.
Gwandu argued that the matter was an administrative issue adding that he didn’t show favour to anyone.
State witness, Detective Sergeant Mlabeni Sibanda said the vehicle was supposed to be released to Toyota South Africa.
“We had made an appointment with Toyota South Africa together with its customers whose vehicles were stolen from them so that they come and identify the vehicles for possible repatriation to South Africa. This vehicle in question was supposed to be released to Toyota South Africa instead of Tundiya,” he said.
It was the State case that on December 14 last year, Gwandu released a Toyota Hilux valued at US$27 000, which was confiscated from Mr Tundiya after it was discovered that it had been stolen in South Africa.
Mr Tundiya, who had been arrested on October 16 last year in connection with the motor vehicle, was acquitted at the Gweru Magistrates Court on December 13.
He told the court that he bought the vehicle from a car dealer, Mr Patrick Mutodi in Harare.
Mr Tundiya said he was also a victim in the event that the car was stolen.
The day after he was acquitted, Gwandu released the stolen vehicle to the businessman without following due procedure.
The State said the car was stolen in South Africa from one Thomas Blom of CMH Toyota and was being investigated by Alberton Police Station in South Africa.
The State said the vehicle was supposed to be handed to South African police but Gwandu handed it to Mr Tundiya.